Landscapes of Cycling by Graham Watson
If you go to see The Race in person, you will see Graham Watson (also known as “Photo 1”) on the race course – he is the man on the back of a motor bike, wearing cameras and a screaming green vest. Watson has culled twenty plus years of his photography and came up 157 of some of the finest racing photos I’ve ever seen. The presentation, then, pushes this book over the edge. Fully half are printed in full spreads across two pages making them about as dramatic as they can be.
Hats off to both Graham Watson and his fellow Brit, John Wilcockson, at VeloPress (who wrote the introduction), for producing the book. It is a piece of art and an inspiration to those who spend the cold of winter dreaming about bicycling classic cycling landscapes around the world.
I’ve written about Graham Watson before when I reviewed his book, Graham Watson, Twenty Years of Cycling Photography. That was a great book. But this one is even better. You’ll want to own it or ask your best friend to give it to you for your birthday. It will provide you with hours of vicarious cycling in faraway places.
Am I biased? Of course I am! As a geographer I have spent almost forty years traveling Europe trying to capture those spectacular landscapes on film. As a the owner of a bicycle touring company I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to capture the essence of bicycle touring in those same landscapes.
Am I envious? You bet I am! I’d love to have the time and access to do what Graham Watson has been able to do. Here are a few of my favorites: the peloton climbing Passo Gardena in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains in 1993; the 2000 Tour de Romandie in Switzerland; the 1998 Paris-Nice peloton under the village of Bonnieux in the Luberon; and his 2004 photo of the peloton in the Tour Down Under at Aldinga Beach in South Australia. I especially like this last shot because I was there and I saw Watson on standing on the sand dune above the race course awaiting the peloton, his motorcycle and driver nearby. (I was in a support car driven by TV announcer Paul Sherwin in the middle of the race. I couldn’t get out or I would have scrambled up the dune to join Watson.)
If you are a photographer, there’s an added bonus in Landscapes of Cycling that was lacking in 20 Years of Cycling Photography. Every photo caption includes technical details of the camera he used, and the lens, film, and exposure. This is invaluable information for students of photography. What did I learn from this? That you can do amazing photography with a fish-eye or wide angle lens, that you don’t need a really long lens (his longest is generally a 300 mm), and that he, too, is moving to digital from film.
How does he take such great photographs? Surely you know the photographer’s and salespersons axioms. For photographers the answer to the question, “how did you get that picture?” is, “f8 and be there.” In short, it doesn’t really matter what setting or exposure you use if you’re not there. And for the salesperson, “showing up is half the battle!” John Fielder would underline the “showing up” part. If you aren’t up at the crack of dawn there’s no way you’ll get that sunrise on the Rockies.
Watson also has his experience to guide him. He has the eye and, after twenty-five years in the business he knows where to be to get the shot, to capture the moment. Let’s be clear that he’s good, not just lucky.
What’s wrong with the book? Okay, I must admit, that Watson’s not much of a geographer. He’s got some captions describing orange trees in blossom that are surely not orange trees (they’re probably almond trees). And he has missed some great opportunities in his captions and text to write about the geography of Europe. But that’s not what this book is about. It’s about cycling. And on that front, I have no complaints. Nice work, Graham!